Sierra wildfire threatens famed giant sequoia grove in California

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 11, 2015 2:16 PM

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A rapidly spreading wildfire spurred evacuations of thousands of mountain homes in California's gold-rush country on Friday as flames from a larger Sierra Nevada blaze edged close to a famed grove of giant sequoia trees in Kings Canyon National Park.

Ground crews mounted an all-out defense of Grant Grove, a stand of ancient redwoods that includes the General Grant tree, one of the largest and tallest of all giant sequoias, as flames crept within a mile (1.6 km) of the area, said Paul Garnier, a spokesman for the fire command.

Giant sequoias are naturally flame-resistant, and most of the area's trees show scars from past wildfires, though officials hoped to keep the latest blaze out of Grant Grove - a premier park attraction, Garnier said.

More than 2,200 firefighters were on the front lines of the blaze, dubbed the Rough Fire.

Ranking as California's largest active fire, the Rough has scorched more than 119,000 acres (48,000 hectares) and forced evacuations of park staff and visitors from a large swath of Kings Canyon.

Containment was listed at 29 percent, though hundreds of homes in the park's vicinity have been evacuated, Garnier said.

The park officially remained open, but all roads leading into the Kings Canyon have been closed since Thursday, said park spokeswoman Dana Dierkes.

A smaller, fast-moving blaze posed a greater immediate danger to private property on Friday about 100 miles (160 km) to the north in the same mountain range.

The so-called Butte Fire has destroyed six homes and two outbuildings since it erupted on Wednesday. A Reuters witness said the blaze, which grew to cover 64,728 acres (26,195 hectares), engulfed dozens of other homes as it spread late on Friday near the former gold mining town of Jackson.

Governor Jerry Brown on Friday declared a state of emergency for Amador and Calaveras counties, which were damaged by the blaze.

The fire threatened some 6,000 dwellings on Friday, most of them placed under evacuation orders, said Mike Yeun of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

Separately, authorities ordered the entire community of San Andreas of over 2,700 people to evacuate on Friday, but lifted the order when flames headed away from town, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynn Tolmachoff.

"It's been spreading at a very explosive, rapid rate," Tolmachoff said.

Some 2,400 firefighters have carved containment lines around 10 percent of the blaze, fire officials said.

(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)